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LAUNCH THOUGHTS - 10 Parent Tips for the College Search

LAUNCH founder, Lauren Joyce Hensel, elaborates on 10 ways parents can create a cohesive, enjoyable college/university search and application process.

The college/university search process does not have to be the terrible experience everyone preaches. Students and parents often get caught up in the competitiveness, but it does not have to be a constant race. The college/university search and application process is a time to expand your parenting abilities and encourage your budding adult. Here are 10 ways parents can create an enjoyable process for everyone.

1. Use gentle reminders to help move the process along. The university recruiting and application process is stressful for everyone. To help your child, we encourage the use of gentle or friendly reminders. While none of the below are requiring you to do the process for your child, they are ways to actively encourage them to complete the university application process independently with assistance from where where necessary.

  • Would you like to do it on your own or have me help you?

  • I need you to _____________.

  • It's okay to feel ____________.

  • How will you take care of ____________?

  • I love you no matter what.

  • You care, so I'd love for you to decide.

  • You care, so I'd love for you to decide.

2. Discuss financial boundaries early. While financial discussions are often difficult, financial expectations on both the student and parent side are important when building out a school list. The more information your child has, the more informed decision they can make when building their list. If you know you can only pay for so much of school each year, be honest with your child about what you can and cannot afford. Never put yourself in a position to make unethical decisions to qualify for financial aid either. It will not go well.

3. Empower your child. Attending college/university requires a level of independence for a student to be successful. They will be in situations where they will have to make decisions without your input, and it is best to prepare for this newfound independence prior to their departure by encouraging them to:

  • Conduct their own research.

  • Talk with admissions and/or coaching staff.

  • Ask for help in secondary school.

  • Improve their weaknesses.

  • Study for the ACT or SAT.

Respect their decisions. You may not always like them, but at least they are making a decision.

4. Actively listen to your child’s concerns, comments, and priorities. Through the process, you may not agree with your child’s perspective on a school, but it is important that you do not let your wants and needs cloud or overshadow your child’s concerns, comments, and priorities. This is a chance for you to build a trusting relationship with your child, and truly hearing their perspective is critical to a productive school search. They are the ones who will have to attend class and be in the school’s environment for two to four years.

5. Keep and open mind. College/university admissions are drastically different than they were in the 1980s and 1990s. As I have written about previously, the only thing constant is change so it is important to put your previous perceptions and thoughts about universities aside. Encourage grandparents to do the same. Remember, rankings change, junior college is a good option, and dual enrollment courses can save you money. If you are unsure about remaining impartial, it may be best to hire an independent education consultant, who can provide clarity for both you and your child.

6. Put the rankings aside. While rankings provide a starting point for the college/university search, they should not be the basis of your child’s decision. Encourage your child to consider a broad range of schools not just the top 20 or 50. With more than 4,000 colleges/universities in America, there is a school for every single student. Although the allure of the top ranking school may sound appealing, you must encourage your child to ask if the top-ranked school is the right place for them. Every school has its own culture and feel. Put the rankings aside, visit campus, and remember bragging rights should not take precedence over best fit.

7. Designate a time to discuss. Too often, families let the college/university search process consume their everyday lives and conversations. To minimize the impact of the search on family time, set aside a designated time every week to discuss the search and application process. By doing so, you are able to compartmentalize the process and still be present and enjoy life.

8. Respect your child’s budding adulthood. During this time, your child will want to express themselves and their needs, their independence, and begin to establish who they aspire to become. They may come to you for advice and approval, but please let them show their gifts and talents to the world. Three important things we encourage parents to understand are below.

  • Do not edit THEIR essays. It is THEIR story not yours.

  • Expect that you may not be asked to read or even review their essays.

  • Remember your child is an individual, and their needs may be different from their siblings. University selection is not a cookie cutter process.

9. Stay positive. It may be hard at times when your child’s emotions are up and down, but this is a transition in their life, when they need you to be positive and encouraging, but also realistic. Know that your child is human and will make mistakes (including missing deadlines). While they may have to accept the natural consequences of their mistakes, their mistakes do not define who they are as a person. Acknowledge that perfection is unattainable, and that only through trying can your child learn. Your child may be fearful of taking rigorous coursework or standardized tests among other things. Acknowledge their fears and what they are feeling is real because for them it is.

Again, college/university admissions are not the same as when you may have applied so do not fully utilize your experience as the only example of a great experience or how to do things. Your child has a right to be nervous, scared, or unsure. What they need is a calm and secure environment to recuperate when the process is too much for them. Celebrate the deadlines they meet, the hurdles they cross, and the independence they assert.

10. Be happy with their decision. A college/university that was a great fit for you may not be the right fit for your child. By forcing your beliefs on your child, they may choose what is easiest. The school with the football team you love. The school you went to, schools only in big cities, schools only where it is warm - the list goes on. While all great, these may not be the best fit for your child. At the end of the day, your child is the one having to attend class, interact with classmates and professors, attend social events, make daily decisions, navigate course selections, meet with advisors, register for classes, attend study halls and tutoring, spend late nights in the library, etc. A college/university should allow them to blossom into the best version of themselves and allow them to #dreamlaunchsoar.

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